The Beatles Final Concert -- I Was There
Memories of seeing the Fab Four firsthand
August 29, 1966 was the last-ever major live concert by The Beatles, and I was there!
If you weren't in San Francisco that historic night -- or never saw John, Paul, George and Ringo perform live -- here's a taste of what you missed...I got lucky. The Beatles were coming to San Francisco, but the concert was sold out. Fortunately, I had a friend.
Popular San Francisco top 40 radio station KYA was the promoter of the concert. I was a student hoping to get into the radio business, so I'd hang out and help out at KYA and its FM station KOIT. Both stations were in a building (originally built for a TV station) that stuck out of the bottom side of the basement parking garage of the famous Mark Hopkins Hotel. KYA was so proud of the prestigious location it called its driveway "One Nob Hill Circle". I guess KYA Program director Larry Mitchell liked me, because one day he handed me two tickets to see The Beatles.
We knew this would be the final concert of the 1966 tour, but no one knew it would be the last-ever concert tour by the world's most popular band. So I got lucky four ways: tickets to a sold-out concert, tickets for free, seeing The Beatles live, and participating in an historic event.
The Beatles final concert was at Candlestick Park, the home field of the San Francisco 49ers, and back then home park of the San Francisco Giants. (And adjacent to KYA's transmitter on the hill next door.) It was a perfect August summer night, even though Candlestick Park, on the edge of San Francisco Bay and in the path of incoming ocean fog, is notorious for being cold and windy.
Right in the middle of the baseball diamond, on top of home plate, was the bandstand, a large raised platform. Mysteriously parked just behind, near second base, was an armored truck, the kind that usually hauls cash for banks. So speculation immediately arose -- are The Beatles inside, keeping safe and waiting to emerge?
Introduced by "Emperor" Gene Nelson of KYA, the show opened with performances by The Remains, Bobby Hebb, The Cyrkle, and The Ronettes. Bobby Hebb gave a strong rendering of his two big hits, "Sunny" and "A Satisfied Mind". Next was The Cyrkle, an American group managed by Brian Epstein, The Beatles' manager, and named by John Lennon. The group did a nice job with its two hits, "Turn-Down Day" and "Red Rubber Ball", and other bouncy songs.
Each act was entertaining, but we couldn't take our eyes of the big gray truck. Not until The Ronettes took the stage, that is. Lead singer Veronica Bennett give us all her hits, including "Baby I Love You," "Walking In The Rain," and of course "Be My Baby." You might recall her as Ronnie Spector, her name while married to record producer Phil Spector. He worked with The Beatles, mainly John Lennon, on some records. Today Spector's reputation is clouded by years of odd behavior culminating in convicted of murder, but in the mid-1960s he produced some remarkable hits that are some of my all-time favorites, and I'll bet your's too.
As Ronnie left the stage my eyes returned to the armored truck, expecting the doors to burst open. Suddenly the crowd started to roar and I quickly refocused on the Giants dugout -- where The Beatles were emerging, walking onto the field, carrying guitars and waving. George Harrison had a camera and was snapping pictures of the grandstand as he walked, which drove the crowed to a higher frenzy -- The Beatles are taking pictures of us!
I can barely recall the songs that were played -- all the big hits. And I can barely recall the sound of the performance, because The Beatles were all but drowned out by the hysterical screaming of the audience. I never quite got this -- why go to a music performance then scream so you can't hear it? The music set wasn't very long, maybe typical for The Beatles but undoubtedly many great songs went unsung.
After the final song, The Beatles bowed to the crowd, then turned and went down stairs -- and directly into the armored truck. It wasn't there to deliver them to the show, it was their getaway vehicle.
It was over. Until next year, I thought. So did many others, but it was not to be -- no major concert by The Beatles ever happened again. (I don't count the small rooftop "live" performance for a movie about The Beatles; it had no resemblance to the stadium/auditorium concerts of earlier years.)
Everyone at Candlestick Park was still crazed by the experience, and as I drove away, KYA not-coincidentally blasted out Beatles hits that made the evening even more magical. A few years later, I was program director of San Francisco radio station KNEW. Whenever we helped promote major concerts, I tried to give my listeners the same magic. A few minutes after a concert ended, just as the audience got into their cars, I'd crank up the playing of songs by the concert acts. But that's another Boomer Years story.